How to Transform Thanksgiving Leftovers into Boozy Cocktails

Courtesy of Poste Modern Brasserie

By Justine Sterling Posted November 18, 2015

When life gives you Thanksgiving leftovers, make cocktails.

When Justin Hampton goes home for Thanksgiving, he never leaves with the good leftovers. The lead bartender at Washington, DC’s Poste has six siblings, and their families have priority (“I’m single and have no kids,” he says). By the time they’ve picked over the feast, Hampton’s left with the less popular scraps. “The turkey and mashed potatoes have been pilfered, but there’s always a ton of cranberry sauce, a slice of pumpkin pie and some candied yams,” he says. Instead of sulking over his sad, stuffingless doggy bag, Hampton decided to do what any ingenuous bartender worth his shaker would do: He came up with a way to turn his leftovers into cocktails. He’ll be serving the festive, no-waste drinks at Poste before the holiday, but his recipes are also easy to replicate at home. Here, Hampton’s boozy ways to reinvent Thanksgiving leftovers.

Cranberry Sauce = Cranberry Cocktail Sauce
Arguably the least beloved Thanksgiving side (save for maybe the perfunctory salad), cranberry sauce is the easiest Thanksgiving leftover to transform into a delicious cocktail. Hampton makes the chunky sauce into an easy-to-mix syrup by simmering it down with water and blending it, then fine-straining it. For a vibrantly colorful, simple cocktail, Hampton shakes the syrup with a clean, aromatic gin packed with botanicals and cranberry liqueur for an extra-tart kick.

Cranberry Cocktail Sauce
1 1/2 ounces cranberry sauce syrup
1 1/2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce cranberry liqueur

Combine all the ingredients in a shaker, add ice and shake vigorously, then strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Optional: Garnish with a candied cranberry rosemary skewer.

Candied Yam = Candied Yam Libation
“Marshmallow-topped candied yams are a staple in my family’s Thanksgiving,” Hampton says. “People love them, but they don’t eat a lot of them and they scrape off the marshmallow. So I always wind up with just the yams.” To make a warming, cozy cocktail, he purees the yams with water, fine-strains the liquid, and mixes it with hot water, hazelnut liqueur and Cognac.

Candied Yam Libation
2 ounces sweet potato (or yam) puree
1 1/2 ounces Cognac
1/2 ounce hazelnut liqueur
3 ounces hot water

Combine all the ingredients in a tempered glass mug and stir. Optional: Top with about ten mini marshmallows, then brûlée them with a torch and garnish with a candied pecan.

Turkey Drippings = Turkey Tippler
“I never get turkey,” Hampton says. “When it’s my turn for leftovers, I get to the turkey and it’s gone. All that’s left are the drippings and the carcass.” In an effort to truly leave no scraps behind, he uses the drippings to infuse Wild Turkey bourbon for an unusual hot, brothy cocktail. To make the infusion, he vacuum seals the drippings with the bourbon, but if you want to try it at home, you can mix the drippings with the bourbon in a container and freeze until the fat solidifies. Skim the fat off and you have turkey fat–washed bourbon. “It gives the whiskey more of a turkey aroma than flavor,” Hampton says. “And a nice mouthfeel.” He mixes the turkey-infused bourbon with hot water, salt, pepper, Angostura bitters, and thin strips of carrot and celery. Sipped from a bowl, it’s a cure and a cocktail in one.

Turkey Tippler
4 ounces hot water
1 1/2 ounces turkey-infused bourbon
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 pinch of salt and pepper
1 slice of carrot
2 slices of celery
1 sprig of parsley

Combine the hot water, turkey-infused bourbon, bitters, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Stir and garnish with the carrot, celery and sprig of parsley.

Pumpkin Pie = Pumpkin Pie Cocktail
“Pumpkin pie is the one dessert I have to have,” Hampton says. “So my family always sets aside a few slices or sometimes even a whole pie for me.” For a supereasy cocktail, he blends a whole slice of pie (crust and all) in a blender with hot water. He strains the puree, then shakes it with vodka and a little lemon juice for balanced acidity. Then, he strains the creamy mix into a martini glass and tops it with ginger beer.

Pumpkin Pie Cocktail
1 ounce pumpkin pie puree (one slice of pumpkin pie pureed with one cup of hot water until liquefied, then strained through cheesecloth)
2 ounces vodka
1/4 ounce lemon juice
Splash of ginger beer

Shake the puree, vodka and lemon juice with ice vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass and top with a splash of ginger beer. Optional: Garnish with a dollop of fall-flavored whipped cream on the rim of the glass.

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